Because of my lack of foresight in electing not to take AP Literature my senior year of high school, an R1A was among the classes that I needed to select for my course load this semester. Young, naive Hannah of Tele-BEARS appointments past assumed that all R1As were created equal, and this complete ignorance in combination with a relatively unfortunate Phase I time is how I ended up in Rhetoric R1A this semester.
I didn’t really know what I was expecting out of class with a title defined as “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing,” but what I wasn’t prepared for was to be thrust into a world of philosophical reading that used a language that might as well have been Slavic to me. Our second reading of the class was written by UC Berkeley’s very own Judith Butler and was entitled “How Can I Deny That These Hands and This Body Are Mine?” In this text, there is a sentence that reads as follows:
“The result is an ontological realm understood as so many effects of linguistic monism, but the tropological functioning of language as action becomes strangely literalized.”
I’m sorry, what? Ontological? Linguistic Monism?? Tropological??? Are these even words????
Turns out, many of these words do not exist outside of philosophical discourse, and as I attempted to plough through Butler’s work, I became increasingly frustrated with what came across as an unnecessarily pretentious use of the English language. How hard would it be to substitute tropological for metaphorical, because they essentially convey the same meaning but one is a word the general population is more likely to be familiar with?
This ostentatious flouting of the English language became a recurring style throughout our readings for the semester, and it only served to make me resent the class and all of the ideas these philosophers were trying to convey. The unnecessarily pretentious language, which was probably used to make the various authors sound well-versed, only served to confuse my understanding of their subjects, and several ideas were lost on me as I literally could not make sense of the words and phrasing they used.
I understand that language is an art form, and expression through the written word is one of the most powerful ways of communication. But, whatever happened to beauty in simplicity? Isn’t there a reason why people flock to museums to look at paintings of just circles and squares? In the field of journalism, nobody is praised for using unnecessarily long or showy language. Being able to articulate ideas in a straightforward and understandable way demonstrates a much better command of the English language to me, rather than using SAT words that nobody in real life gives a flying hoot about. And if using excessive language comes at the price of failing to communicate meaning, is it really worth it?
Hopefully, I have demonstrated to you the complicative implications of plying ostentatious linguistic locutions without requisite, aka the problem with using unnecessarily pretentious words.